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11 Ways to Improve Circulation

Reduce swelling, muscle cramps and cold extremities

If you’ve always got cold hands and feet, pins and needles and swelling in your extremities, it could be a sign of poor circulation.

Here are 11 ways to improve circulation naturally using diet, lifestyle and herbal medicine. Learn how to warm up your extremities and reduce swelling, pins and needles and muscle cramps.

How does the circulatory system work?

The circulatory system consists of lots of blood vessels that carry blood towards and away from the heart. The blood is carried away from the heart in your arteries and carried back to the heart via your veins.

There are two circuits in the circulatory system: pulmonary and systemic circulation. The systemic circulation carries oxygenated blood from the heart to tissues and returns deoxygenated blood back to the heart. The pulmonary circulation focuses only on carrying blood from the heart to the lungs and back again to the heart.

The main role of the circulatory system is to transport oxygen around the body, deliver nutrients and hormones to cells and eliminate waste products such as carbon dioxide so it can be exhaled via the lungs.

What causes poor circulation?

Poor circulation can result from a number of factors, including:

  • Health conditions like diabetes, obesity, chronic high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease as these conditions cause damage to the arteries. Heart abnormalities can play a role in poor circulation as the heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body. Varicose veins and blood clots also affect circulation.
  • Lack of exercise. Veins rely on muscular contraction to return blood to the heart. This is one reason why movement (and exercise) are essential for cardiovascular health.
  • Eating a poor diet that is void of essential nutrients (from fresh vegetables and fruit) and high in table salt, saturated fats, fried foods, damaged oils (trans-fats such as in margarine, baked products), sugar, refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, pizza, pastries, biscuits, cakes) and junk food.
  • Smoking as it damages artery walls, constricts blood vessels and raises heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Stress triggers the production of certain hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which tells the body to do certain things to enable it to deal with stress. These hormones increase heart rate and blood pressure, and also causes blood vessels to constrict; all of which affect circulation.
  • Alcohol can affect your circulation as it impacts blood flow and how your blood vessels function. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to vessel constriction, causing them to narrow and reduce blood flow.

Signs of poor circulation

  • Cold hands and feet, especially fingers and toes
  • Pins and needles or numbness
  • Pale or blue-looking skin
  • Swelling in the hands, feet and legs
  • Weak muscles
  • Muscle cramps or throbbing pain in limbs
  • Chest pain
  • Bulging veins
  • Memory loss or confusion

How to boost your circulation

  1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in key nutrients to prevent blood vessel damage and support healthy blood flow.
    • Plenty of organic vegetables and fruit as they contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D and antioxidants (to prevent cell damage). Eat onions, cabbage, courgettes, carrots, cucumber, spinach, leeks, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, cauliflower, aubergines, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, apricots, apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches and pomegranates.
    • Good sources of protein from beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts and seeds.
    • Foods that are high in omega-3 such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, sardines, mackerel and trout.

Download CNM’s Naturopathic Diet Handout

  1. Avoid pasteurised dairy products (milk, cheese, butter), high-sugar foods and refined carbohydratesdamaged oils and junk food.
  1. Add warming spices to your food to promote healthy circulation and reduce inflammation. Turmeric, ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, chilli and cayenne pepper not only make your dishes taste delicious, they’re also hugely beneficial for the body.
  1. Cut out caffeine (caffeinated tea, coffee, energy drinks) as it has a negative impact on your blood vessels, causing them to narrow and reduce blood flow. There are plenty of caffeine-free alternatives to choose from including a turmeric or beetroot latte, herbal teas or a chicory root “coffee”.
  1. Drink sufficient filtered water to stay hydrated. When your body becomes dehydrated, blood circulation decreases as a means to store energy.
  1. Circulatory herbs like Rosemary, Ginkgo leaf, Gotu kola and Butcher’s broom can help strengthen blood vessel walls and capillaries, reduce inflammation and swelling, and improve blood flow. These herbs are best taken in a therapeutic dose as a liquid tincture, tablet or capsule. Speak to a qualified herbalist who can advise you on the required dose for your needs.

Learn more about Herbal Medicine

  1. Dry skin brushing helps promote better circulation. The action of brushing pushes more blood to the area. It is also great for eliminating toxins from the body.

Watch video on how to do skin brushing properly

  1. Exercise and daily movement are essential for improving circulation and blood flow through the body. Daily brisk walks are great for getting your blood moving and pumping more efficiently around the body.
  1. Have a bath with two to three drops of rosemary essential oil. Rosemary is an excellent circulation booster and it is also rich in anti-inflammatory properties.
  1. Ozone (O3) therapy (e.g., inhaled, intravenous, rectally) is very beneficial for the circulatory system as ozone increases blood circulation and oxygen delivery to organs and tissues. It is also anti-microbial and supports the immune system.
  1. Acupuncture is another modality that can be very helpful for poor circulation as it can reduce pain and inflammation, support the stress response and stimulate circulation by encouraging the blood vessels to widen so blood can flow more efficiently.

Learn more about the benefits of acupuncture

Improve blood flow naturally

Boost your circulation and improve blood flow naturally by avoiding inflammatory foods and lifestyle habits, increasing key nutrients, exercising daily and adding warming spices and herbs to your diet. Practices like rosemary baths, dry skin brushing and acupuncture can also be highly beneficial.

To learn more about how you can use herbs and nutrition to improve your health, take a look at CNM’s Herbs for Everyday Living short course and Nutrition for Everyday Living short course.

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